One couple, two perspectives, tons of geekery

Thursday, September 16, 2010

NPC Attachment

As a Game Master, it is your duty to fill your world with various characters for PCs to interact with. These NPCs help add flavor to the environment and can be used to guide players if they need a little nudge in the right direction.
Like any character creation process, our goal is always to make interesting, memorable and well- rounded characters. For NPCs, this also means the added responsibility of crafting characters that will not outshine the PCs. However, when we allow ourselves to become too attached to our NPCs, we are doing a great disservice to our players.
NPCs are first and foremost a tool. We must not mistake them as glorified PCs for us to vicariously play through. The NPC is there to support the story and the game. But when we grow too attached to our NPCs we create problems for the game. The following are several common NPC attachment warnings:
* You do not allow your NPC to be killed.
* You use information the NPC wouldn’t have to maneuver around the PCs plan.
* The NPC is constantly stealing victories from the PCs and is being used as a deus ex machina.
* You force scenes to occur to showcase your character.
* You find yourself getting upset with the player if their characters do not like the NPC.
* Your character is more involved in the plot thread than the PCs.
If you are finding these warning signs as being a theme in how you play your NPC, you may need to step back and consider their role in the game and your motivations. Are you creating NPCs as a way to play all the different character concepts you’ve always wanted to? If so, you need to reevaluate your motivation for running a game. The game should not revolve around the NPCs. It is the story and the journey of the PCs that should take priority. If you are finding that you are more concerned with NPC activity, then you might need to re-shift your focus.
So what should you do if you are becoming too attached to your NPCs? Well, as William Faulkner would say – “Kill your darlings”. While you may want to heed this advice and kill off interfering NPCs, you shouldn’t feel forced into such a drastic measure. You can always just have them step into the background for a while to give you some time away from playing them. If you are running a game with other Game Masters, perhaps you could ask one of them to NPC the character for a while to remind yourself that it is not your PC. Try to sever that emotional tie to the character so you can portray them without the interference of your own desired outcomes. Doing this will give you and your players the freedom to allow the game to flow on a more organic level. You may be pleasantly surprised by the new twists and turns that your story takes.
Getting too close to any creation we’ve made is always a risk. After all, you put a lot of time and effort into developing them. However, if you continue to put your own enjoyment before the players, then your game will not last long. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be having fun too, but if you sole enjoyment comes from portraying these characters and not from the story you are creating, then you may want to think about participating as a PC in games instead of running one.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Role Playing Your Way Out of a Paper Bag

There are a lot of parallels between acting and role-playing. Some people focus more on it than others, but we feel that everyone wants to portray their character well. With all the similarities, we can take a lot of lessons from acting. For some readers maybe you are in an acting program and know this stuff, but if you are new to the hobby, or maybe just haven’t taken actual courses you might still be looking for a good tip or two.

Here are the 3 best, and some of the simplest tips we have gotten from acting friends. These simple steps can help you get straight into character and help scenes flow so that everyone can feel like Academy Award winners.

1) Know where you are coming from and where you are going. This is such a helpful tactic to get into character. Before you start a scene, decide where you are coming from and where your character is going after the scene. You could be coming from the bathroom, your car, or just have fed off of some poor victim. This gives you a general idea of the mood you’ll be in. Did you just leave your loving wife, storm out of the house from your oppressive parents, or were sent out of your haven by an elder vampire. But you’ll be surprised at the how well this mental activity grounds you. And can help carry you into a scene. We have found it a good exercise particularly if your distracted or not in the mood to play your character. Also know where you are going. After this are you going to a restaurant, or to meet up with a date, or to a werewolf caern? This can really help you pace the scene you’re in. Are you in a rush to leave? Do you want to avoid where you are going? Who or what is important enough to stop you from leaving? The great thing is you don’t even have to think about the consequences of your choice, it will just flow in the scene as long as you have a clear idea of where you came from and where you’re going. Two simple decisions that help a scene so much.

2) Don’t say No. This is an improvisational acting rule, and seeing as that is largely what we are doing it’s an important one. What this means is try not to contradict other players - riff off of what they or the Story Teller/Game Master staff describe to you. For example: Your character gets shot for a lot of damage. The medical person comes up and heals most of it and says “It’s not as bad as it looks” to justify the medical skill. Don’t then go and say “What? It went right through my shoulder! Can’t you tell a grievous wound?” Now you have undercut the other players’ skills, are pushing the barriers of disbelief because now we all have to think of another reason a first aid kit and 3 seconds fixed a gunshot, and are retroactively describing a vague event making the other person look ‘wrong’. None of those things are fun for people and make it harder for the scene to flow. Whenever possible always try to be moving forward and not trying to be explaining things that already happened, that’s what we mean when we say “Don’t say no”. You’ll find the scenes will flow better and feel more natural, and more importantly the other players will feel it, and think you are a great actor/role-player.

3) Have a voice for the character. You don’t need to be good at accents, or impersonations. You don’t need to change the sound of your voice in anyway (though you certainly can if you like). Just adopt different vocabulary and mannerisms. If it’s your first time just copy someone, if you’re a veteran you can pick and chose all the traits you need from experience or your own head. Pick an actor, TV character or a friend and just try to talk like them. Make sure it’s someone you know well, or watch a lot. Just try and use the types of words they use and speak at the rate they speak. Are they always excited, are they normally very patient, do they use 8 words when 3 would do? Just try to pick someone a bit different than you (and your other characters if you are playing more than one, or NPCing or such) Try to have a few vocabulary word they fall back on to express things, like exclamations, insults or pet names. Just think about the words you use a lot, and when you use them. Then think of different words or phrases and use them in the same place. Little changes like that can help define a character so well. You’ll be amazed when you finally break character and everyone realizes it without you having to hold up your hand with your OOC finger gang sign. Now if you want to get into accents and vocal distortions and all that by all means go for it, it all helps, but don’t feel like you’re a bad role-player because you can’t do them well, because by the end of the day they are not needed. What is needed is to just have a separate way of speaking for that character that you can settle into. Eventually you’ll find it comes naturally when you’re in character, and your friends will think you deserve an Oscar.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Warlock's Tower: So You Want to be the Bad Guy?

So you want to play the bad guy?

Obviously, cause you’re reading the Warlock’s Tower article. Normally it takes years of practice to play a good antagonist in a game but fortunately you were clever enough to go straight to a knowledgeable source so maybe there is hope for you getting out of minion status and to become a true master mind that will be remembered throughout the ages.

So let’s look at what you should be thinking about as a player who wants to play an antagonistic character in a game. Most of these tips are good food for thought regarding NPCs as well. There is a temptation for you to get a ‘me vs. them’ mentality that often leads to bad blood between players. But you are still telling a story with the other players, and you are playing a necessary part of that story, so just try to remember you are there to collaborate not compete.

These tips work best in large player settings, and obviously not for games set up strict PvP games. But I’ve found there is a lot of difficulty with people playing one of these characters in large online games or LARPs that are trying to include a high amount of RP. You can apply some of these to a table top game but in most of those cases I feel you will be playing more of a spy or traitor than trying to build yourself up to be a true antagonist, so if that’s what you’re playing just take the parts you need from this article.

Lesson One: Know what game you are playing, and what game the other players are playing. Not everyone is there for the same reasons you are. It’s ok to change your level of antagonism from player to player. There may be a competitive player, an introspective player, a beer and pretzel player, and a player only there for the role-play and social interaction. These players will all have very different reactions when you attack/backstab/take advantage of them. It’s OK to use different approaches for each, and if you want to be remembered as the best villain of the game, you should. Be everyone’s favorite person to hate and you’ll go down as the highlight of everyone’s war stories. Seeing as you want to be a foil, try to play the opposite of the character you’re targeting. If the other player is aggressive, be deflective and try to get them get them in positions they can’t muscle through, like legal binds. If the other player is defensive, attack a bit, force them to step up to defend their territory. You‘ll need to determine what to do on a case by case bases, but always try to be engaging the other player and exploiting their flaws.

Lesson Two: Use minions. Getting others to do your dirty work may go against the very sensible thought “If you want something done right then you have to do it yourself.” But if you’re in a game you have to remember to be inclusive of the other player. You’re there to tell a group story, and you don’t want to isolate yourself from the rest of the game. Strong arming, hiring or tricking other players into helping you involves them in the plot, and gives them things to do during a game. You may be more limited in a table top, but this is a great strategy for an online role-play centric game, or a LARP. Again look for the players that would be best suited and find ways to included them. One of my favorite relationships in a LARP was with a player who became my flunky early on, and failed at almost every assignment I gave him. Perfect, I thought! I sent him after new players, weaker characters I knew I could easily kill, and people more interested in RP. He would scare them, give them some plot, give clues that I was “after them” in some way, but they weren’t going to lose their characters, and it lead to lots of fun scenes.

Remember you are there to add drama and antagonize the story not necessarily to win. So…

Lesson Three: The lost art of Counting Coup. For the most part killing PCs in most of these games has one of two effects. First you killed someone’s favorite PC, they now hate you, (The player not the character like we would have wanted) don’t want to play with you anymore, and leave the game or cause drama you don’t need in real life. Or they don’t care, think of it like going down in Modern Warfare, and just bring up their next life with a character that may or may not have an inexplicable grudge against you. Now on the other hand, if you leave them beaten, humiliated, or having lost something they care about… it becomes about the role-play. Creates the back and forth rivalries and sets up the epic showdowns of legend that we go to the movies for.

Alternatively nothing adds to a story like temptation. Fallen characters are always a fan favorite, while those who resist temptation often become great characters. So if you don’t think you can beat them physically, see what you can offer, money, power….everybody has a price. If you can make them become the thing they fight (that’s you) then you have also won.

Lesson Four: If you want to be remembered as the biggest bad of all time, be consistent. This may feel like a contradiction of the first lesson but it’s not. Not only do you need to know your game but you need to know yourself. There are so many examples of people changing a villain’s motivations just to get the most “evil” or dramatic scene. Know what drives your character. Remember major villains have 3 key attributes. Selfishness, Arrogance, and the sense of victimization (yes there are more, but you’re game may or may not allow you control of them so we’ll just stick to these for now). The first two are going to be the same as everyone else’s attempt to be the bad guy, so you have to make the last one meaningful. Lex had his hair/looks, Magneto had the holocaust, Sephiroth had mommy issues. It doesn’t have to be rational but it does need to be meaningful and drive the character. For example if barbarians wiping out your village is your driving victimization, then try not to let the other characters be killed by a wild mob, even if it’s in your interest to let them die. Now you have a much more interesting character. He works against the other players at most turns, but wants to fight disorder more, or at least won’t let it steal his victory. So don’t switch motivations just to be evil.

Hope that helps you on your path of becoming everybody’s favorite person to hate. Just remember you are there to work with the other players to tell a story, and most stories are only as good as their villains… so make your count.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Gamer's Grimoire: Making Scars

Creating visual effects with make-up is always a great way to enhance your LARP experience. For this tutorial, we've decided to show you how to add scars. If you want to play a character with any prominent scars, we have a very simple and easy technique to share.

All you will need is a bottle of liquid latex, which you can find online and in Halloween speciality shops. Our pick is Ben Nye Liquid Latex.We grabbed a small bottle for $6 at our local Halloween shop. Unless you plan on doing alot of special effects work, a small bottle should be all you need for small scars. This stuff goes a long way.

Ben Nye Liquid Latex for all your emo gill needs

For this example, we will be making a simple, clean cut arm scar.

Place down a paper towel in case of drips. Then get a sturdy piece of paper with a thin edge. Something like an index card, a business card, or an envelope. In this case, we chose to use a playing card. Using the liquid latex cap's brush and paint a coating along the edge of the card:

Apply a thin, even coating

When you have a good coating, press the card aganist the area of the skin that you want the scar to appear. You will only need to hold it there about three to five seconds.While we are showing an arm scar, this can work equally well for facial scarring, though be careful to keep the substance out of your eyes and mouth (obviously).

Press firmly against skin

Gently pull the card away and let the latex dry. If the latex is a bit too wide, you can just wipe the edges to create a thinner line. And if it's not to your liking, you can just wash it off and start over, as liquid latex comes off very easily. After drying, you should have a nice little fake scar:

Show the other players that your character's daddy doesn't love them enough

The bottle does come with a brush cap, however, we find using the brush creates too wide of an area and too thin of a coating. This technique creates thinner and cleaner cuts that are great for displaying knife and blade related scarring.
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